Since Covid-19 reached Ireland, I've had an abundance of people reaching out looking for the best ways to "boost their immune systems". Unfortunately, there is no one supplement or food group that will increase how your immune system functions. It really comes down to a multitude of factors, some that are within our control but many which we have no control over at all.
What we can do is introduce small daily practices that will support our immune systems and help us improve all areas of our health.
Seeing as I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, I'm always looking for the things in my life which I do have control over and ways to implement them into my everyday life. So that being said, here is the list of foods, supplements, and practices I'm adding to my daily routine and have done the last few years with great success.
1. Exercise - Fresh air, increased blood flow to our brains and organs, nature, and sunlight. These are some of the amazing benefits we can obtain by getting outside each day to exercise. A lot of us will be used to attending gyms and group classes but during this time we need to continue to keep exercise as a top priority. Studies have shown time and time again that exercise reduces pro-inflammatory markers and increases longevity.
Exercise is also one of the best stress-busting activities we can engage in. When we are stressed, we produce higher levels of cortisol, which has an immune-suppressing effect. Exercise, especially when done out in nature naturally reduces our cortisol levels and helps to support our immune systems.
Aim to get outside for 30 minutes each day and get your heart rate elevated. Youtube and Instagram makes working out from home so assessable to everyone, whilst being really enjoyable.
My go-to is Yoga with Adrianne.
2. Eating a Varied Diet - It's easy to get into a routine of always eating the same foods, but studies show that a diet rich in diversity which includes “all major food groups” (fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) is associated with a reduced risk of developing chronic illnesses and an increased take of the essential nutrients that work to support our immune systems. Such as vitamin C, A, Zinc and a wide variety of phytonutrients.
Here are some simple ways to increase the variety of nutrients you consume:
Start your day with a smoothie. Add some of the following ingredients; berries, spinach, kale, flaxseeds, avocado, ginger, lime, turmeric, apple, and nuts.
Pick two new vegetables next time you're shopping and google a recipe that includes them.
Roast a large try of vegetables a few times per week as use them as the base of soups, add to salads or an omelette.
When cooking, add fresh and dried herbs to your meals.
3. Vitamin D Supplementation - We don't fully know the direct impact that vitamin D has on Covid-19 but what we do know is that vitamin D is hugely important for the proper functioning of our immune systems. Dietary sources of this crucial nutrient are oily fish, eggs and fortified foods but the levels are low.
Known as ‘The Sunshine Vitamin’, the best source is direct sunlight onto the skin but long winters and living in the Northern Hemisphere make obtaining optimal levels quite difficult.
Thankfully we can reach adequate levels through supplementing on a regular basis. The dose you take can depend on many factors, firstly what your current levels are. If you arten sure what your current vitamin D levels are, you can do a home test. Link to test here.
During winter months, we should all be aiming to supplement with between 1500iu-2500iu of vitamin D daily and aim to get our levels >75nmol/L.
Here is a very interesting meta-analysis from 2017, "Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections" - https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583
4. Sleep - A good night’s sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy body, but most importantly a healthy immune system. Sleep enriches our ability to learn, memorise, and make logical decisions. It restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism and regulates our appetite. Good quality sleep has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Diabetes by allowing the brain and body to heal.
Right now we want to make it top of our priority list. The main thing is practicing good sleep hygiene. This means doing things which are known to improve sleep, and avoiding those things which disturb sleep.
Sleep expert Matthew Walker recommends we aim to get around 8 hours of sleep per night.
“A growing body of scientific work” shows that “a solid seven to nine hours of sleep a night serves functions beyond our wildest imaginations.”
For more information on sleep, read our article on "The Do's & Don'ts of Sleep - How To Get The Most From Your Sleep".
5. Fermented Foods - Did you know that approximately 70% of our immune cells are stored in our gut? The healthy bacteria AKA probiotics that reside in our intestines are much to thank for that.
Probiotic foods are more commonly known as fermented foods which have seen a surge in popularity in recent years due to their proposed health benefits. Fermentation happens when friendly bacteria get to work on turning starches and sugars in foods such as milk, vegetables, and fruits into lactic acid. The lactic acid acts as a preservative meaning that food then keeps for longer; it also helps to feed beneficial bacteria in your gut. A wide range of different friendly bacteria multiply during the fermentation process and so by regularly including fermented foods in your diet you are constantly nourishing your gut with a wide range of naturally occurring beneficial bacteria.
Some fermented foods to include are:
Others include fermented soy products such as natto, tempeh, miso, fermented vegetables, and even sourdough bread.
Move your body, preferably outside in nature.
Eat a wide variety of whole foods to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
Supplement with vitamin D.
Prioritise sleep - aiming for 8 hours per night.
Add fermented foods to your daily diet to support your gut health.
I hope you find this information useful and easy to implement into your daily routine. If you have any questions about anything mentioned above please don't hesitate to get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you have a family member or friend that you feel would benefit from this article please forward it on. Sharing is caring :)